Some assessment designs make it difficult for students with disabilities, English learners (ELs), and ELs with disabilities to show what they know. The goal of universal design principles is to improve access to assessments for all students.
NCEO developed seven elements of universally designed assessments based on a review of the literature on universal design, assessment, and instructional design. Test developers have used many of these elements to increase assessment validity and accessibility.
The seven elements are:
- Inclusive assessment population
- Precisely defined constructs
- Accessible, non-biased items
- Amenable to accommodations
- Simple, clear, and intuitive instructions and procedures
- Maximum readability and comprehensibility
- Maximum legibility
Applying universal design principles can improve tests in a variety of ways. For example, more accessible tests may provide a more accurate understanding of what students know and can do. In addition, universally designed general assessments may reduce the need for alternate assessments.
Work on this topic is ongoing. Some studies have examined the effects of universal design features on assessments for students with disabilities and ELs. The Every Student Succeeds Act refers to universal design for learning (UDL) in the development and improvement of assessments. It uses the UDL definition that is in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008:
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that — (A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.